Author Tags: Labour
Arthur H. 'Slim' Evans was the organizer and leader of the On To Ottawa Trek in the summer of 1935. There was a time in this country when one needn't say more, but that time has long since past.
Born on April 24, 1890 in Toronto, Slim Evans left school at age 13 to help support the family. He sold newspapers, drove a team of horses and learn the carpentry trade. Evans came west in 1911, working at various jobs on the prairies, before gravitating from Winnipeg to Minneapolis. He was sentenced to three years imprisonment in Kansas City for participating in an IWW free speech, having read aloud the Declaration of Independence at a rally. "All I did was read it. I was too shy and too nervous at that time to make up any speech of my own." He was released in 1912 after he led a jail strike of political prisoners. In 1913 he was present at the Ludlow Massacre and was hospitalized with leg wounds. He fraternized with such labour 'greats' as 'Big Bill' Haywood, Frank Little and Joe Hill. He was working in Kimberley, B.C. as a miner when the IWW (International Workers of the World) was formed. As an IWW organizer, he led the OBU coal miners in their strike at Drumheller, Alberta in 1919-1920 and was sentenced to three years in prison for his efforts, allegedly because he used United Mineworkers funds to fund a wildcat strike without permission. At the time he was sub-district secretary of the United Mine Workers of America. Labour historians allege he was 'framed' by the John L. Lewis union machine. As an organizer for the Communist Party in B.C., he was expelled for fighting the corrupt union leadership of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners in Vancouver. In 1932 he organized the National Unemployed Workers Association and won increased rates for relief work. Having helped the coal miners of Princeton strike for higher wages, he was imprisoned for 18 months in Oakalla after police worked in collusion with the Ku Klux Klan to frame him. Authorities took punitive actions against his family in Vancouver, evicting them from the house Evans built at 17 East 42nd Avenue when he unable to pay the mortgage. Unionists protested and demanded his release.
To protest the welfare of unemployed single men in Prime Minister R.B. Bennett's 'slave camps' in the early 1930s, Evans conceived the most substantial labour protest in Canada's history, the On To Ottawa Trek. Men frustrated with earning $5 per month for their labour were rallied by the likes of Evans to ride the rails, 40 to 50 men atop a boxcar, towards Ottawa. By the time this delegation to Ottawa reached 2,000-strong, R.B. Bennett ordered them stopped in Regina. RCMP and Regina City Police were instructed to arrest the Trek leaders. Police armed with clubs, tear guns and guns broke up an open air meeting between trekkers and Regina citizens on July 1, 1935. Regina police shot into the crowd but remarkably nobody was killed. Evans was chairman of the delegation that was invited to Ottawa to discuss the situation with R.B. Bennett. When the Prime Minister called him a thief, Evans said on July 22, 1935, "Bennett, you're a liar!" He was charged under Section 98 of the Criminal Code following the 'riot'.
Two year later Evans attempted to unionize the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company in Trail, B.C. in 1937, eventually establishing Local 480 of the Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers Union in Trail. In 1937 he also led a campaign for a Medical Fund to support the Canadian MacKenzie Papineau Battalion fighting for the freedom of Spain. In the 1940s he was a shop steward of the Amalgamated Shipwrights. He died on February 13, 1944 from injuries after being struck by a car. He was buried in Ocean View Park cemetery. His widow Ethel Jean Evans, who married Evans in 1920, died in Vancouver on May 31, 1965 and was buried near her husband.
"Work and Wages"! A Semi-Documentary Account of the Life and Times of Arthur H. (Slim) Evans 1890-1944 Carpenter, Miner, Labor Leader (Trade Union Research Bureau, 1977). Co-written by Ben Swankey and Jean Sheils, Slim Evans' daughter.
All Hell Can't Stop Us (2003)
The despair and marginalization of underpaid and underfed unemployed men in 54 so-called relief camps in the B.C. Interior during the Depression spurred the Communist organizer Arthur 'Slim' Evans to mobilize protesters, identified as strikers, in April of 1935. Congregrating in Vancouver, they seized control of the library and museum, 'snake-danced' through the Hudson's Bay Company department store, and eventually decided to head en masse to confront the R.B. Bennett federal government. On June 3, 1935, Evans and more than 800 'On-to-Ottawa' trekkers boarded a CPR freight to go east. Bill Waiser's chronicle of those times, All Hell Can't Stop Us: The On-To-Ottawa Trek and Regina Riot (Fifth House, 2003) chiefly outlines the so-called riot in Regina where the RCMP had a training depot. Alleging the protesters were part of a Communist conspiracy to overthrow the government, R.B. Bennett had the RCMP forcibly disband the protestors and end the trek with brute force. Much of downtown Regina was damaged and there were two deaths: trekker Nick Schaak and Regina policeman Charles Millar. Waiser quotes one of the trekkers, Harry Linsley, who recalled years later, "All we ever wanted was work and wages."